The outboard stalled; towboat bearing down

By G. Sam Piatt - PDT Columnist



Submitted Photo

I had launched my boat at the Ohio River ramp just upstream from Wheelersburg, 3.5 miles below the Greenup Dam tailwaters. What happened to me on the way to the fishing waters should serve as a reminder to us all: when you go out in your boat, take along some tools – at the very least a pair of channel locks and a sharp pocketknife.

And some oars, or at least a paddle.

I was in a bit of a hurry, but as I loaded the boat at home I concentrated on putting onboard the five things the Ohio Division of Wildlife Water Patrol or those manning the Scioto County Sheriff’ Department’s patrol boat will ask to see: an anchor, a bailer, a fire extinguisher, an emergency horn or whistle, and registration papers for the boat.

But I forgot my little tool kit.

I first motored across to the Kentucky shore and set the glass minnow jug off the gravel bar there. In 30 minutes I had trapped two dozen shiner minnows about the size of your index finger.

As I transferred the minnows to a bucket, I noticed a towboat coming upriver, making good time, pushing empty coal barges, three abreast. I pushed off and started upriver, traveling smack in the middle of the river. I opened the 15-horse Mercury up.

I had covered hardly any distance at all before, thump! The prop struck something underwater. The motor stopped. No amount of pulling on the rope would start it. In fact, I couldn’t even pull the starter rope.

A bigger concern was the towboat bearing down on me. I was directly in its path.

Thankfully, I had rigged an electric trolling motor on the stern. I quickly lowered it, hooked it to the battery, and had made it to the Ohio shore by the time the barges were abreast of me.

I turned the motor up out of the water and saw that the underwater obstruction I had hit was still with me. A great tangle of rope, interwoven with about 200 yards of monofilament fishing line, had wrapped itself around the prop, securely binding it.

The only sharp instrument I had on me was the pair of fingernail clips hanging around my neck. If I’d had a wrench, or the channel locks, I could have removed the nut holding the propeller to the shaft, slid the prop off, pulled the tangled mess away from the shaft, replaced the prop, and been free of the trouble. With a knife I could have cut it away.

I pulled the stern in toward shore, got out in the knee-deep water, and worked for 30 minutes before I could free the prop and the shaft of the rope and most of the monofilament.


The motor ran OK and I made it to the fishing waters by 4:30. Using the trolling motor to hold my position in the eddy about 75 yards out from the Ohio shore, downstream 200 yards from the power plant and the fishing pier, I baited up with minnows, clamping enough splitshot a foot above the hook to take the bait to the bottom. Eventually I was rewarded with a walleye 16 inches long and two sauger, each about 12 inches.

Then, from farther out in the river, I heard loud pop, pop, pops – almost like a rifle going off. It was the sound of hybrid striped bass feeding. They had driven a school of shad to the surface. I could see their silver sides shimmer in the sunlight as they ripped and slashed through the school of baitfish.

They were out of casting range. I hastily reeled in the two bait poles, picked up a third outfit that was loaded with a surface lure, started the outboard, and roared out to where the surface was being ripped apart.

The very first cast resulted in a hybrid that would have gone five pounds. I battled him through the currents to the side of the boat, where he threw the hook. As quickly as it had started the action was over. The school of hybrids went back down.

I spent the remainder of my fishing time chasing the “jumps.” The hybrids weren’t staying up long at all. By the time I would get within casting range, back down they would go. Frustrating, to say the least, as I never hooked another.

Piatt Submitted Photo

By G. Sam Piatt

PDT Columnist

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.

Reach G. SAM PIATT at [email protected] or (606) 932-3619.